Exposing PseudoAstronomy

January 17, 2015

Podcast Episode 124: The Astronomical Distance Ladder

Measuring distance
In the Universe: A fun
Science episode!

An episode over two years in the making: The Astronomical Distance Ladder!!!!! (insert many cheers) In all seriousness, I have wanted to do this episode since autumn (August-ish) 2012, but I haven’t been able to find a good hook. Convicted and jailed felon, Kent Hovind, provided that for me on January 6, 1998, in a Coast to Coast AM episode I got my hands on. And so we have this episode. It is long. Those of you who like longer episodes, this is nearly an hour long. It did not intend it to be this long, but, well, that’s what happens when I get excited about a topic that’s not incredibly straight-forward.

I also guessed off the top of my head that an object with a redshift value of z = 1.4 would be about 10 billion light-years away. According to Wolfram Alpha, it’s 9.1 billion l-y lookback time, so take THAT, Prof. Morrison! (It’s been literally a decade since I thought about what z equals what distance, so I’m pretty impressed that I got that pretty close.)

I do want to apologize about the sound quality in this one and the variable volume levels (I tried to even them out in post-processing). I was recording during sustained 20mph winds with gusts over 50mph. So, I had a lot of background noise I was dealing with that varied in intensity.

This episode has three additional segments: New News related to a precision measurement of Saturn’s position, a new Logical Fallacies segment, and Feedback (one clarification, one negative and my response).

For the new Logical Fallacies segment, I’ll say what I said in the episode: “I’m open to feedback including overwhelming negative feedback on whether this was at all useful or is worth keeping in some modified way, and also if I’ve made any mistakes.” The fallacies discussed in detail for the episode are Argument from (Personal) Incredulity and Appeal to Ridicule. I got into how both of these are classes of Red Herring fallacies and the former is a sub-type of Red Herring, the Genetic. I also pointed out that additional fallacies in Mr. Hovind’s argument were the False Precision Fallacy, Appeal Against Authority, and False Analogy.

Edited to Add (January 21, 2015): The Raw Story has an article up today explaining a bit more about Kent Hovind, and that he is trying to testify before Congress (though he’s still in federal prison) about the IRS being a bunch of meanies.


  1. I really liked this one. I finally have a new phone, so I can listen more regularly to your podcasts (among the many other skeptical podcasts I listen to). I found this topic very interesting, particularly your discussion about how the different measuring systems are used to calibrate each other…

    Comment by Julian Janssen — January 18, 2015 @ 5:13 pm | Reply

  2. Good episode, I was aware of some of this, but you clarified the relationships between the different rungs. It was interesting to hear that Hovind’s argument was almost exactly the same as that used by Jeffrey Grupp to deny the existence of extra-solar planets back in episode 63 (“It’s too hard, so ya can’t do it”).

    I did detect towards the end that you were getting frustrated/angry, I hope you don’t fall into the ‘skoftic’ trap.

    Comment by Graham — January 18, 2015 @ 6:40 pm | Reply

    • I’m currently looking to see if I still have an issue of Sky & Telescope that in addition to covering comet Hale-Bopp had an article on the Heavens Gate suicide. If I do I’ll pass you the details, probably via email.

      Robert Sheaffer’s UFO Sceptic’s page has a little about the Heavens Gate cult including a scan of a 1990’s recruiting poster:


      Also the Strange Frequencies Radio podcasts episode 315 interviewed someone who has written a book covering the development of the cult from beginning to end, the book might be useful to sort out a timeline.


      Comment by Graham — January 20, 2015 @ 9:16 am | Reply

      • Thanks. I’m finding a lot of info out there, and I’m listening to a lot of Art interviewing Courtney Brown who was the remote viewer who really started this whole thing. I’m also catching him in provable 100% lies. What I don’t understand is how slime like him survived and is still getting interviews, including on C2C.

        Comment by Stuart Robbins — January 20, 2015 @ 9:22 am

      • Stuart I’m still looking for the issue of Sky & Telescope I remembered. Have found the January 1997 & May 1997 issues, but the item I was looking for is not in the May issue. I’m still rummaging through boxes. I plan to visit the library this weekend and go through the back issues there.

        If you are interested I’m willing to scan the May 1997 issues article on Hale-Bopp and send it via email.

        Comment by Graham — January 29, 2015 @ 8:57 am

      • If you think it’ll be useful and you have the time. I have *a lot* of information on this, and I’m still gathering more. I have more than enough for a three-episode series at this point. So, take that information and make your own judgement call.

        Comment by Stuart Robbins — January 29, 2015 @ 10:22 am

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